While I write quite a bit about higher education, I don’t think I focus enough on community colleges, which are just as (if not more) vital to educating our country’s workforce than the four year research universities and liberal arts colleges. According to the Chicago Tribune, President Obama will be recognizing this importance sometime during the next couple of weeks by announcing a plan to significantly increase funding for community colleges.

President Obama soon will be announcing a plan to substantially boost funding for the nation’s community colleges, with an aim of helping more workers get the job-training they need in the coming decade.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, outlined the goals of this program in an address today to the Democratic Leadership Council.

“In the next couple of weeks, you will see a major announcement by the president on community colleges and job training and the rewriting of all the legislation related to job training and community ed. in the country – but, most importantly, in the area of community colleges,” Emanuel told the DLC.

A few paragraphs later, Emanuel explained why community colleges are crucial to rebuilding our economy.

“What’s been forgotten is how important our community college system is” to the economy,” Emanuel said today. “As a competitive advantage for the United States, the community college system is essential,”he said, and the administration is intent on boosting funding for growth of the system.

Half of all high school graduates continue schooling in the community colleges, he says, but they haven’t gotten the funding they deserve.

“We all do what we’re supposed to do at the public universities and the state universities, etc. This has not gotten attention,” Emanuel said of the plan for boosting community college funding. “The community college system will be getting major resources to compete.”

According to Emanuel, the “major resources” should be enough to get five million additional workers through the community college system, strengthening America’s competitiveness against the workforces of other countries, namely China and India.

Frankly, as long as the community colleges get a fair shake, I’d be happy. Right now, they’re not. A USA Today editorial published last December contained some interesting facts about community colleges.

• Community colleges educate roughly half of all students but receive only a fourth of what’s handed out in local and state funds to four-year public and private colleges.

• Over the next decade, at least 57% of all job openings will require postsecondary education but not necessarily a four-year degree. Some of the highest-demand workers get their job training at community colleges, including half of new nurses. As many as 40% of teachers get their academic start at community colleges.

• Community colleges reach many students four-year colleges miss, including 35% of undergraduate minority students and 39% of undergrads who are the first generation in their family to attend college.

• While many private, four-year colleges are seeing dips in applications, community college enrollments this fall rose by 8-10%. And yet in most states, the per-student aid is shrinking.

With the country currently mired in the recession, community colleges look to be the best way to train workers on a massive scale and mobilize them to get our economy moving again. As these facts illustrate, these colleges will see a boom that other kinds of institutions probably won’t see, especially among those of lower socioeconomic status and prospective minority undergraduate students. Already underfunded compared to the other side of higher education, Obama’s effort to prioritize community colleges is definitely needed.